People first as the shack debate continues

19 February 2008 | Story by Myolisi Gophe

City speak: VC and principal, Prof Njabulo S Ndebele, with Edgar Pieterse, director of UCT's African Centre for Cities.

The government's ambitious plan to eradicate shacks by 2014 was interrogated as academics and policy-makers met to launch the African Centre for Cities.

Established last year, the UCT-based centre is a platform for interdisciplinary research on urban issues.

Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Njabulo S Ndebele, said the university has developed a good reputation in urban research with the establishment of the Urban Problem Research Unit in the 1990s. The unit was closed in 1996 and the African Centre for Cities is regarded as its successor, but with larger intellectual resources, Ndebele said at the Spier Wine Estate in Stellenbosch on 14 February.

The launch at Spier followed a public debate earlier in the evening, chaired by the centre's director, Professor Edgar Pieterse, on the assumption that shacks will be cleared in six years time in Gauteng, KwaZulu Natal, and the Eastern and Western Cape provinces.

Professor Dan Smit, a special advisor to the housing minister, said the government was committed to meet the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals with 2.4 million houses built in the past decade, and argued that the country should redefine what constitutes acceptable living standards.

Mogsien Hendricks of the Development Action Group responded that not all shack dwellers could afford houses or want to own one. "It is important to understand why people make choices when making interventions."

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